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Teleportation: fact to fiction in a new movie

Teleportation: fact to fiction in a new movie

Fact met fiction Wednesday when a Hollywood actor and director sat down with two MIT physicists to compare the reality of teleportation to the special effects version in the upcoming movie, Jumper.

"It's a little less exotic than what you see in the movie," said Edward Farhi, director of the Centre for Theoretical Physics at MIT. "Teleportation has been done, moving a single proton over two miles. [But] teleporting a person? That is pretty far down the line. The quantum state of a living creature is pretty formidable. That is just not in the foreseeable future."

It is, however, in the foreseeable future in the Hollywood world of lights and special effects. Jumper, which is scheduled to be released on February 14, is a sci-fi thriller about a man, played by Hayden Christensen, who discovers he has the ability to teleport himself anywhere and at anytime. There's no old-fashioned Star Trek-like "Beam me up, Scottie" in this movie. The character simply wills himself to "jump" from one place to another.

Of course, nothing can be that easy in an action-adventure thriller. Christensen's character discovers that he's not the only Jumper alive and that there's a secret organisation of people sworn to kill all Jumpers because they believe the teleporters' ability makes them a danger to everyone else. Actor Samuel L. Jackson plays the man in charge of tracking down, and killing, the Jumpers.

While the movie, directed by Doug Liman, may have taken the reality of teleportation and spiced it up quite a bit, Christensen, who gained fame and heart-throb status playing Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episodes II and II, told Computerworld that it's an alluring fantasy.

"I've always been a sci-fi fan. I like things that stimulate the imagination," he said before clips of the movie were screened for the MIT audience. "Obviously, I think there's great appeal to be able to be where you want, whenever you want. You could escape anything you need to escape."

And what situation would he like to teleport out of the most? "I might be home right now," he said, laughing. "Just kidding. Just kidding. Well, I'd at least like to be somewhere warm."

Liman, who joked about doubting his decision to go to MIT where the technology in his movie could be ripped apart, said he tried to find a source of reality in the science behind teleportation. "When we started Jumper, I got hooked up with a professor at the University of Toronto," said Liman, who travelled to 14 countries and 20 cities to make the movie. "He basically threw me out of his office. He didn't have much of a sense of humour about what we were doing."

The science still intrigues the director, who said he would recommend that would-be directors go to a school like MIT instead of film school. "Sitting here listening to your professors, I got five movie ideas in the bathroom and two ideas for sequels," said Liman. "This is where great ideas for films are born, so this is far more important than film school."

And the science obviously intrigues the professors and students at MIT, which may be one of the few places where professors get the same raucous hoots, foot stomping and cheers as the Hollywood star and a famed director. Farhi and Max Tegmark, an associate professor of physics at MIT, are the ones to separate fact from fiction when it comes to worm holes, time travel and teleportation.

Quantum teleportation, Farhi explained to the audience, entails destroying something in its original place and recreating it somewhere else. To do this with an electron, for instance, scientists would need to have another electron, basically a mate, in place where they want the first electron to appear. That second electron would receive the essence of the first electron.

"Quantum teleportation has occurred in the laboratory," he added. "They've moved single particles over two miles, but there is no instantaneous transportation. You could just pick it up and move it much more easily, but that would be less exotic ... and cheaper."

Right now, Fahri said scientists are still experimenting with teleporting single protons or electrons. The next step would be to teleport a more complex object, like an atom. When that might happen, the theorist just isn't sure.

"I don't think distance will be the problem," he noted. "The issue will be the size of the object."


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